The Heralds of Valdemar: Book 3
I actually thought I’d already reviewed this one. Guess not. Well, that’s embarrassing. I had all these clever things to say. Let’s see if I can remember them.
Let’s see. In this book, Orthallen is obviously evil and no one believes Talia, again. Misunderstandings abound. It’s a bit contrived, perhaps, but still an engaging story. I think it’s a good ending to a solid trilogy, and it remains one of Lackey’s better series. This trilogy is one of the most tightly plotted of any of Lackey’s works. The plot has a very clear structure, too: upon Talia’s return to Haven, her triumph of having overcome the obstacles of Arrow’s Flight wears off quickly as things go wrong—misunderstandings, arguments, etc. The Queen sends her off as an ambassador to the neighbouring country of Hardorn, where shit promptly hits the fan, and the end brings it all to a satisfying close.
BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS
Lackey uses foreshadowing really well throughout Arrow’s Fall, while still giving the illusion that Valdemar is a rich and teeming world full of happenings and different people. My favourite example is the foreshadowing with the story of Christa Fetching the little children out of the fire, which is brought up during a council meeting Talia attends near the beginning of the book, as a precursor for setting up the possibility that Dirk can Fetch Talia from Ancar’s dungeon near the end. Yes, it’s foreshadowing, but it also gives us details about other Heralds riding out on circuit and it helps show how Talia deals with a lot of issues in her duties as Queen’s Own.
One of the strongest elements of this book is the interaction between the female characters. Mercedes Lackey writes solid female characters who are people first, women second, who are competent or incompetent based on their merits, not their sex. She was writing this in the 80’s. I don’t understand why this is still considered an impressive feat, but I guess fantasy is still very much dominated by white male power fantasies—something this book emphatically is not.
Both Talia and Queen Selenay are strong, clever characters who share a great friendship. They bolster each other, they respect each other, and their teamwork pwns the council in a hilarious scene that’s built up very well: nearly everyone on the council wants the Heir, Elspeth, to marry Prince Ancar of Hardorn. But Selenay doesn’t want Elspeth to marry until Elspeth graduates to Herald, and has misgivings. Talia shares them, and advises her on how to phrase her decision to go against everyone’s vote. In a crucial moment, after Selenay says her piece, all the councilors begin to argue—until Talia steps in, reminding everyone that, as a full Herald now, she has full voting rights and can veto them. Everyone is stunned, and it’s a pretty hilarious scene, because Talia’s a gently-spoken little woman and everyone underestimates her.
Talia’s female friends among the Heralds are also great. They make ribald jokes and plan their sexual conquests and essentially act like people, and like friends, and it’s so refreshing. Talia’s relationship with Elspeth is also touching: even after they argue, because Elspeth makes a very bad decision on who to sleep with, they still love one another and share remorse, and by the end of the book they’re close again.
Rolan is hilarious. I love the fact that he’s out having sexytimes with Dirk’s Companion Ahrodie while Talia is sighing over Dirk … and Talia can’t block any of it out.
Orthallen is so evil. How does no one notice? Seriously?
Even Alberich thinks so! Pretend with me that those disastrous Exile books hadn’t been written. In Arrows canon, Alberich has ‘served Valdemar fully as long as [Orthallen]’ and has distrusted him the whole time. Furthermore, neither Kastor nor Rolan trust Orthallen. Heralds listen to their Companions. I felt much of the explanation was a bit weak, and that Orthallen doesn’t earns his role as villain. Though I think this problem is a million times worse in the Exile books, which are poorly written. To be fair, Lackey at least addresses these complaints of mine in the book
Kris is really bad at reading Dirk. He knows Dirk is insecure about women, so why doesn’t he notice he’s upsetting him? Plot convenient? Does he just chalk it up to the lifebond making things awkward? Kris is insensitive because he’s not good at romance: he hates the notion of being in love, he hates being pursued, his real passion is helping people and running the Collegium.
In fact, Kris really doesn’t come through in Arrow’s Fall, especially since he himself suspects Orthallen. In fact, one could go so far as say that Kris caused his own death. If he’d listened to Talia’s concerns in the first place, they might never have traveled to Hardorn. I had trouble believing Kris was so dismissive of Talia.
Dirk is an idiot about women. I guess it makes sense, but it’s a little too melodramatic for my tastes. Christa’s death which drives him to alcoholism, on the other hand, is a good reason for melodrama; I enjoy his melodrama more when it’s not just his muleheaded misunderstanding about Kris and Talia.
Actually, maybe they’re all acting so dumb because they’re still young people who’ve all had to grow up too fast and who are under a helluva lot of stress doing their duty as Heralds? Hrm.
Maybe Lackey could have toned down the melodrama just a little. Then the inner turmoil would be more… punchy, as it were. It’s possible many of these troubles I’ve noticed are a result of Lackey’s tendency to tell, not show, a lot of the drama. Furthermore, many of the aforementioned misunderstandings feel a bit forced.
I recently realized that Ancar makes a perfect climax for her story. In Arrows of the Queen it was established from the beginning that Talia is afraid of attractive men, because her handsome brother burned her with a fire poker, and got away with it. Sometimes this fact is played for laughs—she’s initially wary of Kris, who, being beautiful and often pursued, is completely nonplussed. It’s one of her earliest traumas, and she has to face it again at the very end: Ancar is a handsome, sadistic man. She faces him, she sends warning to her Queen, and because of how much she’s touched the lives of others, she is protected and rescued—and heals.
The fact that she heals from rape and torture is probably the most unsung heroic Talia performs. Somehow, even after, she’s strong enough to heal, and even though it’s heartrendingly hard for her, she marries the man she loves—even though it’s weeks before she can withstand him even touching her hand.
I appreciate so much how Talia is this little, slender woman with self-esteem issues and a lot of compassion—but these qualities are so important that because of them she saves her country. It’s an incredibly powerful message to send in a day and age where women (and compassion) are still consistently undervalued.
On the whole, I really enjoy this book. There’s lots of hilarious moments, Kris’s death is very moving, the whole section with Talia as captive is heartrending and awful. Even though the war is only briefly touched on, because it’s not the focus of the plot—which is, at all times, Talia’s story—we do feel like there are stakes, and that Ancar is Bad News for Valdemar. The book puts you through a whole gauntlet of emotions, and ends on an incredibly tender, hopeful end. I’d recommend this trilogy to anyone.